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Two “hawks”, a red one and a yellow one, at FabLab-UTM

A surprising collection of two cars, never before encountered in Chișinău, make this year’s beginning intriguing. The surprise – their rare brand – MPM Erelis (also known as PS.160), but especially the fact that they were parked in front of FabLab Chișinău, part of the Technical University of Moldova, known as one of the largest workshops of prototyping and small-scale production in Eastern Europe.

The unique status of the two vehicles is emphasized by the fact that they represent a modernized version of the four-door Tagaz Aquila coupe vehicle (from Latin meaning “eagle”, “hawk”), produced in a very small number by the Russian manufacturer TagAZ, under Daewoo Motors license and technology. Since Taganrogskiy Avtomobilnyi Zavod of the Russian Federation was opened on September 12, 1998, at the beginning of the worst economic crisis in the history of modern Russia (the default of August 17, 1998), the factory was immediately given conservation status. Thus, instead of starting production of licensed copies of the Daewoo Leganza, Nubira and Lanos models, it was limited to manufacturing small batches, using “screwdriver technology”. It was only in the spring of 1999 that Orion Nubira began mass production of the car, but after assembling several hundred cars, it stopped its production. In April 2000, he signed a contract with PSA, and in June he started the production of Citroen Berlingo MkI with 5 seats, under the Orion-M brand, with a gasoline engine authorized by Citroen. In the same year he signed an agreement with Hyundai Motor Company to produce the Hyundai Accent. He also signed production contracts for some Hyundai models, some copies of the Chinese brands Chery and BYD, and in 2013 FCA had considered the possibility of producing the Jeep Grand Cherokee model at TagAZ! Already reaching the production capacity of 180 thousand vehicles annually, after the global financial crisis of 2009, the factory accumulated debts, so much so that in 2014 the Rostov Arbitration Court declared the founder – bankrupt. Meanwhile, the equipment became inoperative, and the buildings with a total area of ​​60000 sq.m. gradually turned into ruins.

However, the sad history of TagAZ underlines the uniqueness of the machines produced by this factory. In 2013-2014 about 200 copies were manufactured. At that time, a so-called sportcar  on a steel tubular frame with fiberglass body panels attached was offered for 415,000 rubles. Under the hood, it had a 1.6-liter, 4-cylinder in-line (100 hp) engine from Mitsubishi, coupled to a 5-speed mechanical transmission. It had only one level of equipment that included: air conditioning system, simple audio system, electrically operated windows, central locking system, heated and electrically adjustable rear-view mirrors, power steering, alloy wheels, driver airbags and ABS.

Currently, TagAZ Aquila is produced in one of the suburbs of Paris, by the new manufacturer MPM Motors (de facto Mihail Paramonov Manufacturing). The model is called MPM Erelis (or PS.160). He made his debut in 2018 at the Paris Motor Show. Price: 16,490 euros, with a 2-year warranty or 200,000 km traveled. Dimensions: 4,684 x ​​1,860 x 1,383 x 2,750 mm, with respective wheelbase and weight of 1,240 kg. Under the hood, it has a new PSA turbo engine, with 3 in-line cylinders and a volume of 1.2 l, which produces 129 hp and 238 Nm of torque (corresponds to the latest Euro 6.2 emission standard), being coupled to a 6-speed manual transmission that puts the front wheels in motion. It also combines a tubular frame and a body of composite materials, which makes the car 10-25% lighter than the models of the same segment, giving it sporty dynamics, but also an attractive power-to-weight ratio. Its composite body is also seen as an excellent way to reduce the price of its pieces and spare parts. Standard equipment includes: 18-inch aluminum wheels, profiled sports seats, heated mirrors, air conditioning system, anti-pollen filter, 4-speaker Hi-Fi audio system with MP3 CD Radio, LCD and USB port, LED daytime running lights, fog lights, headlights that automatically connect based on light sensor, air cushions, anti-theft system based on motion sensors, THATCHAM certified, electrically operated windows, ISOFIX system etc. The new manufacturer is allowed to produce up to 1,000 vehicles annually, already managing to produce over 350 copies in Europe. The PS.160 is sold today in France, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, through multi-brand dealers.

How did such unique transport units get to the Technical University of Moldova and, implicitly, at FabLab?

The machines were donated to the FabLab Laboratory Factory by a project partner from Poland – Tau Wistru SRL, a company specialized in trade in machinery, industrial equipment, ships and airplanes, consulting services and other professional, scientific and technical activities in the field. The two vehicles can be perceived as a Christmas gift from the donor, and the donation itself is due to the efforts and clairvoyance of the rector of UTM, prof., Dr. Viorel Bostan.

According to the FabLab director, Oleg Sârgu, in the summer of 2019, the institution initiated a series of negotiations with the donor. Several agents from the Republic of Moldova, Poland and Bulgaria will be involved in the joint projects. As far as the two cars are concerned, these were donated for R&D, but the projects are in the process of being developed and finalized. The call for proposals on these projects is still open, the period being extended at least until the end of January, starting from the importance and the scope of the opportunities opened by R&D projects in the automotive field. In this regard, FabLab is working on two projects aimed at modernizing the two vehicles, but the priority remains to be the ideas and proposals received from the engineers-researchers from UTM. In particular, it relies on research-development solutions, of both scientific and commercial value, that can be implemented under real conditions and, respectively, be attractive to investors.